Familar faces join Canucks as puck drops on training camp

If the blue lines at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre seem familiar to a trio of defencemen in Vancouver Canucks training camp, well they might.

Canucks’ camp free-agent invitee Will Warm has gotten acquainted with the facility this month during Victoria Royals training camp, and will continue to get to know it better during the Western Hockey League season, after the Royals acquired the 20-year-old from the Edmonton Oil Kings over the summer.

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This is also where undrafted hometown product Jordie Benn began his unlikely rise in pro hockey with the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL in 2008-09.

The heralded Quinn Hughes was far from undrafted, of course. The Canucks’ first-round draft pick in 2018, selected seventh overall out of the University of Michigan Wolverines, effectively patrolled the Memorial Centre blue line last winter for the silver-medallist United States in Pool B at the 2019 IIHF world junior championship.

“Victoria was a good team experience for us; and for me definitely,” said Hughes, at the time.

The offensively mobile rearguard followed up with a five-game, three-assist late-season NHL debut with the Canucks to give B.C. hockey fans an enticing glimpse of what to expect in coming years. That journey, as fate would have it, brings him back to the Memorial Centre this weekend.

It is the return of Benn, however, that is the most compelling story among the trio. The Peninsula Minor Hockey Association product was basically unheralded and unwanted by the pros despite a three-season junior career in the B.C. Hockey League that concluded with him captaining the Victoria Grizzlies.

Benn took the only pro offer he had, from coach and GM Mark Morrison of the Salmon Kings, and didn’t have far to go to accept it in moving across town from The Q Centre to the Memorial Centre.

What followed has been a study in steely persistence and a rise from the Salmon Kings through the Allen Americans of the Central Hockey League, Texas Stars of the American Hockey League and 473 career NHL games with the Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens.

“It’s been a crazy, long road taken,” said Benn.

“Every player is so pumped when they get drafted. But if you’re not there yet, you’re not there yet. I was not even thought of by any NHL team in my draft year. But some of the guys who were selected in my draft year are not even in pro hockey now.”

But the six-foot-two rearguard decidedly still is, and was signed as a free agent by the home-province Canucks, a team he grew up idolizing in Central Saanich.

“Being from the Island, the Canucks were obviously the team I cheered for growing up,” said Benn, when he was signed this summer by Vancouver, for $2 million US per season over two years.

“Now I’ve come full circle and will play for the team I grew up watching as a kid and idolizing, with players like Trevor Linden and Geoff Courtnall. I’m really excited to come back home. It’s a good fit.”

So much so that the 32-year-old turned his back on the Habs.

“I had the option of signing back with Montreal,” said Benn.

“But the offer being from Vancouver made it easier. It was not as hard a decision as it might have been. The Canucks said they are excited to have me. And my family is over the moon.”

Benn has 22 goals and 88 assists for 110 points and 196 penalty minutes in the NHL and has more of a reputation as a stay-at-home defenceman. But that is a deceptive analysis.

“Jordie brings a lot of different things to our team that will help our young guys,” said Canucks head coach Travis Green.

“And not just in his own end. Jordie has a heavy shot and a sneaky offensive game.”

Other notable Canucks camp players with previous visits to the Memorial Centre include former Royals WHL opponents Kole Lind, Sven Baertschi, Jake Virtanen and Jett Woo. Goaltender Michael DiPietro spent the 2019 world junior Canadian training camp on the Island, including the two exhibition games at the Memorial Centre.

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